Mark Elder on Defending the Zone Read Play

This past weekend I was cleaning out several boxes of old football notes and I stumbled upon some great stuff from clinic talks that I’ve attended over the past few years.

One of my favorites were the notes I took when listening to former Central Michigan defensive coordinator and current Tennessee Special Teams Coordinator Mark Elder, and his overview of how he liked to defend the zone read.

In hindsight, one of the things that caught my eye when going through the notes was Elder’s discussion of the second-level read, a play becoming more and more common, and something Urban Meyer thinks will become the next big thing in college football.


Mark Elder – Central Michigan University

Defending the Zone Read

– First, determine whether or not the QB is reading the end.

  • Check his eyes
  • Chart whether or not he keeps it or gives it when the end closes. The answer will soon become apparent

– Determine the best back, and figure out who you would rather not have with the ball in their hands

  • If it’s equal, play it equal
  • Try to keep the ball out of the best back’s hands. Give the QB a look that gets the ball to the lesser of two evils.


Base Defense

– Prefers a “2i” tech over a 1 to limit a wash on the d-tackle by the guard

– LB must play downhill and attack the lineman thick

– DE has 1st threat

  • Ball carrier cutting into ‘C-Gap’
  • QB Keep

– LB: Hit OT “nose-to-nose.” Create a flat wall and go win gap. This allows DE to defend less space East and West. If you take half a man, it will allow the offense to wash you down. (Make the B-gap as small as possible)

Chase Defense

– End chases the dive, plays the B-gap from behind the LOS.

– Backer must step then get QB (NOT first threat)

– LB must see if tackle hinges

*** This is just switching responsibilities, DE chases back down from behind.

*** The back should never be able to cross the DE’s face, so LB is free to go after QB

– If they’re not reading the end, stick with one defense or the other.

– QB Wrap/ TB Wrap – 1 Tech allows double team. C-G work to backside backer.

– Figure out dive defender ’30 Veer Base’ LB will read tackle and check for base block.

– The second level read is the hardest thing they see –

Line Stunts – Interior/ Edge Stunts

– Changes up the look for the offense.

– Can’t allow the offense to know who your QB player and dive player are every snap.

– Interior exchanges gap, exterior exchanges responsibility (Trying to confuse the tackle).


– “Squeeze square, close there” shoulders parallel to LOS. If in doubt, err on the QB.

– Force the QB East and West, allows the backside defense to pursue and make a play.



– Attack the offense and makes the QB make a decision in a hurry with someone in his face.

– Increases hits on the QB

– It is critical that you discuss your run fits on all of your blitzes.

– General terms describe responsibility for blitzers.


– Responsibility for both sides of the defense must be discussed, you don’t know where they will run the play.

– If tackle starts to base block DE, play games with him (line stunts)

– OT feels with hand on end and watches LB. Tries to find dive defender.

– Shift back from side-to-side in 2×2, screws with strength and responsibility

– Certain offenses have a ‘dive’ guy and a ‘pitch’ guy, no matter where they are.

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